Here we have an analogy that reduces to absurdity the doctrine that "the church is an institution ."

Read it carefully .

The Family -- An Institution???

Gaylon Embrey

A terrible thing has happened to the ecclesia (church) of Christ since New Testament times. It has been changed, constitutionally changed, transformed from a "called out" group of people into a corporate, denominated institution. In an ongoing effort to clarify this distortion of concept, I would like to use a comparison. For a little while I want you to think with me about "the family." In the meantime, however, do not forget about "the church." The family can teach us a lot about the church.

The Family is an excellent illustration for two reasons. First, the word "family" is a people word. By definition it refers to "a group of people with a common ancestry, a household, a group of people united by certain convictions.'' Ecclesia is likewise a people word. It too refers to "a group of people of common ancestry (born of God), a household (of faith), a group of people united by certain convictions (concerning ,Jesus Christ.)" Second, God's people of the new covenant are specifically compared in the Scriptures both to an assembly (ecclesia} and a family (household). This makes the church and the family in some ways similar. So the comparison is ideal.

For our purposes let us take an imaginary family of a 20th Century gentleman named Jacob. He is married to a lady named Rachel; and they have thirteen children, twelve sons and a daughter. Thus we have a family of fifteen, the "family of Jacob." What is this family? It is a group of related people, nothing more, nothing less. They are to be sure a very distinct group, being recognized by everyone around town as "belonging" to the same family. They were born into this family. They carry the family name and honor with them at all times. Individual members of this family carry different designations depending on their position in the relationship and who is describing them. They are known as father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister etc. Therefore each one has his/her own personal identity and special place in the family circle. Yet when considered together they constitute a single group, one man's "family." In this connection the word "family" is a handy word to have around. Jacob can say "I love my family" without having to name each one of them. He can tell Reuben to "gather the family together" without having to list those he wishes to have present. Like Abram of old, Jacob can "command his household after him ." He can say, "I want my family to be good, to do what's right, to always make me proud." They know what he means. He wants Gad to be a good little boy and Dinah to be a good little girl, etc. Jacob's family is characterized by love, as all good families are. They are partial to one another. By love they serve one another in all the ways they can. If one member gets in trouble the whole family will pitch in and help out. Because they love each other they enjoy one another's company. Therefore they have frequent family gatherings. They do not stay together at all times, of course. Much of the time they have to be separated from one another. But they are the same family whether together or apart.

Read the above paragraph again. The analogy is not hard to see although, like any comparison, it is not perfect in all respects. Now substitute the word "church" for "family" and you will note the striking similarity. For the "ecclesia of God" is also a group of related people, nothing more, nothing less. They too have a distinct identity, being recognized by those who know them as being "in" the same spiritual family. They were born into this family. They carry the family name and honor with them at all times. The various members of God's household, the church, are different; they are not identical. Individually they are known as elder, deacon, evangelist, teacher, disciple, brother, sister, newborn babe, etc.; and as such each one has his own special place within the group. In discussing this particular group of people the word ecclesia is handy to have around. We can say, "Jesus loves the church." We can say, "The church must glorify God." We can say, "The Lord has given the church a great work to do on earth." In such cases we are NOT talking about something more than, or different from, the aforementioned people. Like a family, the church is characterized by love. Christians prefer one another. By love they serve one another. They enjoy one another's company. Therefore the church gets together often. They assemble often. They cannot stay together all the time. Yet they are the same "church" whether together or apart. As you can see the comparison works very well. This is because the two words "family" and "church" are so similar. Neither is an institution word. Neither word refers to an organization.

What I am coming around to is this. So far in our religious history "the family" has not been subjected to a lot of institutional concepts; that is to say, when we employ the word "family" in everyday conversation we do not think in institutional terms. We think in terms of people. It is only when we stop thinking normally and start preaching that we take the family and drift in an institutional direction. And interestingly, we do this mostly when we are wrestling with some institutional church question. A couple of examples come to mind wherein brethren have unwittingly (I hope) tried to make the family into a corporate body (of all things).

This is done first in connection with the "college question.'' Over the years we have preached that "the Church which Jesus built is THE divine, one and only, all-sufficient institution of the Christian faith." This does not leave much room for another "Christian" institution does it? Because of this doctrine we have had a difficult time finding a biblical "justification" for the "Christian College." The traditional solution to this problem has been to make the Home (family) itself into an institution and then argue, and I quote: "The Christian College is an adjunct to the Home and not to the Church. That's why the Home supports it and the Church does not." This makes a nice argument. The circles are then drawn on the board. One circle represents the institutional Church, one circle represents the institutional College, and one circle represents the institutional Home. Three circles, three institutions. The College is then attached with a line to the Home rather than to the Church. This is neat and makes it scriptural, so the argument goes. My question is, how and by what means was the Home turned into an institution? And a gigantic institution at that! Evidently we are talking here about a brotherhood-size Home large enough to attach a great College to. This is some "Home." If on the other hand, when we say "the College is an adjunct to the Home," we are referring to someone's "local Home," like the family of Jacob, then naturally I wonder WHOSE home that might have been. It was not mine. Was it yours? The question here, however, has nothing to do with the college issue (except indirectly). It has to do with whether a Home can be considered a CORPORATE entity or institution.

Some seem to think so, especially when they are debating an issue like the "orphan's Home." In dealing with this question one writer put it in plain words: "The Church is an institution and the Home is an institution." Then he added the punch line. He said that in New Testament cases of benevolence "The Church was the giving institution and the Home was the receiving institution.'' The argument sounds pretty good until you consider what it does to the home. It makes the home, the "family of Jacob" if you please, not a group of people but a corporate body. Heavens! It is bad enough to make "the church" into an institution. Now we have made "the home" into one also. Think about this. Is the home, a family of people, a corporation-like entity? Of course not. Such an idea would never enter our mind unless we happen to NEED an institutional "Home" in order to support an institutional argument.

Now for the most part, up until now, our domestic theology has not advanced nearly as far as our ecclesiastical theology. But imagine it. If the time ever comes when we get the Home as fully institutionalized in our creed book (or mind) as the Church has become, just think of what we will have. We will have a full-blown domestic organization known as the Family with a capital F, the Family AS SUCH. The "family of Jacob" will no longer describe a group of people related to Jacob. Instead, "The Family of Jacob" will be the legal name of a certain domestic institution that operates out of the house where Jacob and Rachel, along with their children, reside. "The Family of Jacob" will refer no longer to a distinct group of people having a distinct relationship with one another and having distinct responsibilities growing out of that relationship. No indeed. "The Family of Jacob" will now be envisioned as "an organized functional, institutional entity (body corporate) that has been given certain specific, clear-cut, authorized works to perform that only this unit can perform with God's approval." In other words, the Family of Jacob is now the exclusive institution "through which" all Jacob's children are required to do their domestic duties. Now Jacob's thirteen children may still be his "family" in some sense of the word, but they are now the Family AS SUCH. By this time, with the domestic doctrine of "the Family" firmly in place, everyone knows that the Family, As Such, is the God-appointed institution for doing the "work of the Family."

This wonderful institution cannot accomplish its purpose, of course, without the support of all concerned. Therefore the primary obligation of all Jacob's children is to "support the Family." After all, Jacob gets his glory through the Family. This is why he wants his children to support it. What this means is, NOT that Dan should try to be a help to Naphtali or that Judah should pull Benjamin out of the hole (though everyone agrees that these things should be done), but that they ALL should chip in to support the institutional Family Jacob has "set up." Among other things this includes making a contribution to the Family "treasury" on a regular basis. The Family treasury is controlled by those ordained by God to "run the Family." This would be Jacob and Rachel; NOT Jacob and Rachel acting in any individual capacity, but rather as a "Parentship." For according to the domestic doctrine of the Family, the governing body is a plurality of parents that constitute a Parent-ship. By himself Jacob has absolutely no authority in the Family. By herself Rachel has no authority. Only when they act together in an official capacity, as a Parentship, do they have any authority. And of course if Rachel should die, Jacob would have to resign from the Parentship. Because, you see, in a Family you can't have just one parent. In any event, the Parentship makes all decisions and their decisions are final. Yet even the Parentship has no right to spend Family funds on anything except those "certain, specific, clear-cut, works" that God has authorized the Family as such to perform. This is why every Family activity must be closely monitored. We now need to distinguish between Family Action and mere family activity. It takes practice to do this, and a keen eye.

What is Family Action? Family Action is something done at the Family house, something done by an official "agent" of the Family, or something done by the specific authorization of the Parentship. Otherwise it is NOT Family Action no matter how many family members may be involved in it. Take a picnic. A picnic is attended by all the family members, only by family members, and only BECAUSE they are family members. Is this a Family picnic? That depends. It may or may not be. If the picnic was authorized in an official meeting of the Parentship and was paid for with a check drawn on the Family treasury, then it was a function of the Family Corporation and can be classified as Family Action. BUT, if this was not the case, if Jacob bought the pop with money out of his front pocket and Asher went by the store and picked up chips and dip, THEN the picnic was only a function of the individual members of the family but not a function of the Family As Such. While this is all very clear to those with a degree in domestic theology, it may not be quite so clear to the neighbors who think it was a "family picnic" either way.

In any case, now that we have thoroughly institutionalized the Family and in our imagination made a corporate "collectivity" out of it, perhaps we need to find out exactly what its "authorized functions" should be. Please remember that the corporate functions of an institutional entity are not the functions of a person, or even a group of persons. The works of an institution are not attributed to real live people, but always to the institution itself. With this in mind, what would you think the scriptural functions of the Family Unit might be?

Someone has written, "The Home is charged with rearing children, and doing so in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." Really? Somehow I thought it was the obligation of PARENTS to bring their children up in the right way. Until they have offspring of their own I can't see how Isachar and Zebulun have any child rearing responsibilities. But they ARE part of the family aren't they? Is "work" a corporate Family function? No. Because the only ones who do any work in the family, especially for the first few years, are Jacob and Rachel. Baby Benjamin certainly doesn't hit a lick. All he does is eat and sleep and lie around and wait on someone to tend to him. Are "eating and sleeping" proper functions of our Family institution? Maybe so, since family members seem to do their share of both. But do they do these things as a corporate collectivity, as a single unit, all acting as ONE? Must family members eat and sleep all at once, simultaneously, before these activities would qualify as "Family functions?" Is sex a function of the Family? I should hope not, for the sake of Jacob's children.

I could go on and on. But my purpose is only to point out how hard it is to find ANYTHING that a corporate Family, acting as an institution, actually does. The reason this is difficult is because NO SUCH INSTITUTION EXISTS in the land of reality. This is why, in the Scriptures, the Family, as a corporate functional unit, is never addressed or instructed to "act." Can you think of a passage where a Family unit, acting as an institution, is told by the Lord to do something? Yes, a father is certainly told what to do. So is a mother, a husband, a wife, a child, a brother, a sister, etc. Each is reminded of his or her responsibility as part of a family of PEOPLE. In discharging their individual duties the father and mother sometimes do things together; sometimes the children actually help one another; sometimes all family members will join together in an endeavor. This is how it should be. But NONE of this has any REMOTE resemblance to the functions of a corporation like General Motors or AT&T institution. To find this sort of thing you must move over into the business community, or into the amazing world of institutional Churches.

I wonder if the candid reader can see what is involved here. In real life we would never DREAM of making the kind of institutional arguments about someone's family that we so readily make about the local church. Why? Because we know what a family is and what a family is not. We know a family is a group of people; we know a family is not some type of domestic institution "set up" by a father and "supported" by his wife and children. A family is real. Yes, a family does indeed function. How? Our imaginary family is functioning when Jacob works down at the store earning money they will all spend; when Rachel washes and irons the clothes they will all wear; when Dinah makes up the beds they all slept in; when little Levi carries out the trash they all helped to create. The family "functions" properly as the individual members act in ways that contribute positively to their mature relationship.

The same is true with the "functions" of the human body. Remember, the church is compared to a body as well as a family. How does a body "function?" It is only when ALL members of the body act in unison, collectively, as a single unit. The eye sees. The ear hears. The finger scratches the nose. Isn't the body "functioning" in these instances? True, "The body is not one member, but many." The eye does not look for its own sake, nor does the ear listen for its own sake. But the fact remains, the only way a body CAN function is when the individual members of that body "do their thing." So with a family. In order to honor Jacob and to promote the welfare of everyone in the entire group, the individual members of the family will faithfully carry out their assortment of duties. In the process they do different things at different times. Frequently they will meet to do things together, in conjunction with one another. But being together and working together creates nothing but closeness; it does not create a corporate entity. And, even when they do things together family members are ALWAYS acting as individuals, hopefully as the responsible individuals their "father" wants them to be.

I believe we all understand this well enough when we are dealing with a real life family in the flesh. Why? Probably because we have never been trained to think "institutionally" in the family setting. Therefore when thinking about our own dear family, or "the family of Jacob" for that matter, we never reason along institutional lines nor do we talk the kind of nonsense described briefly in this article. We think instead only about people and relationships and personal responsibilities. Why should it not be this way with reference to God's "family?" Isn't this what the church is?